Learning disabilities

This resource offers tips and advice if you studying with a Learning Disability (LD), Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

Strategies for successful study

Tertiary study is challenging and it is important to undertake a realistic study load. If you need ongoing support, you should consider discussing your needs with Student Equity and Disability Support, as we may be able to provide services to assist with your studies. You can maximise your chances of success by using the various services available to you and developing a range of study strategies.

You might find it useful to explain the effects of a learning disability and the possible impact on study. For example:

  • poor memory and concentration skills
  • slower rate of information processing
  • additional time required to complete tasks
  • difficulty reasoning and problem solving
  • difficulty organising time and prioritising
  • difficulty with language, such as: reading and writing (spelling, grammar and structure) and following instructions and procedures.
  • difficulty with numerical problems, sequences and calculations
  • social difficulties, such as: mood changes, impulsive, argumentative or insensitive behaviour, reduced ability to sustain attention or grasp social cues and hyperactivity
  • low tolerance to stress
  • possible feelings of low self-esteem and depression.

Preparing for study

  • Consider your preferred learning styles and strengths when choosing a course or subject.
  • Contact a Student Equity Adviser before you begin studying to discuss special arrangements including alternative format requirements.
  • Explore the available adaptive technology in the library or through Student Equity and Disability Support. Investigate funding for equipment.
  • Create a timetable to map out your assessment tasks (commencement and due dates) and exam dates.
  • Set up efficient, colour-coded filing systems for each subject.
  • Determine your preferred study environment: a quiet area or a space with background noise and music.
  • Establish study routines, such as: plan to study for short periods with frequent breaks, schedule difficult/complex tasks for optimum study times (e.g. mornings when most alert, alternate interesting  tasks with less interesting tasks, avoid distractions and focus on completion and work with a partner or a group.
  • Maintain a life balance and allow time for socialising, exercise, relaxation and sleep.
  • Expect peaks and troughs in the study year and focus on the positives.

Study techniques and tips

  • Lectures and tutorials

    • Attend all lectures, tutorials and laboratory sessions. Consider attending repeat sessions.
    • Do preparatory reading for all lectures and tutorials. Make sure you access your subject webpages for notes and announcements. Sit close to the front where there are fewer distractions.
    • Find out what was covered in any sessions you missed and ask your lecturers about accessing copies of notes or other materials.
    • If you find that organising material or writing quickly is a problem for you, explore support options through a Student Equity Adviser.
    • Share notes with other students to check key points and fill any gaps.
    • Reinforce new material by listening to recordings, reviewing and reworking notes within 24 hours, and revising summarised notes frequently.
    • Ask in tutorials for further explanation about anything missed or not understood.
    • Be fully prepared for tutorial presentations by practising and timing delivery, organising notes and highlighting key points and preparing questions to stimulate discussion.

  • Reading and writing

    • Source course outlines and booklists before semester begins: start reading early and selectively. Lecturers can indicate the most important texts and suggest less complex texts.
    • Speak to a Student Equity Adviser to find out about accessible or alternative formats.
    • Determine the purpose of reading before beginning. Break reading into manageable sections. Read actively and critically using the SQ3R technique: Survey, Question, Read, Recite, Rewrite.
    • Reading aloud can assist understanding and concentration.
    • Record main points and bibliographic details at the same time.
    • Share reading lists with others to cut down on reading.
    • Clarify the required academic style for written assignments. Ask lecturers for copies of model assignments. Concept maps and software such as Inspiration and Endnote can facilitate planning and referencing.
    • Explore English language and literacy, ESL support, writing and grammar classes and online courses or tuition such as Online English grammar and OWL (Online Writing Lab).
    • Enlarge vocabulary by using a thesaurus and practise using new terminology.
    • For subjects that require mathematical skills, devise a list of steps to follow in problem-solving tasks, put the problem into diagrammatic form if possible and use estimation to check the probability of answers.
    • If you are unsure about your lecturer's comments on essays, ask for further feedback.

  • Exams

    • Make arrangements for any alternative assessments through a Student Equity Adviser at least five weeks before exams.
    • Early and regular revision is the most important factor in exam preparation. Allow extra time for difficulty subjects.
    • Select relevant material and gear revision to suit exam style. Seek explanations for anything not clearly understood.
    • Find different ways to understand, organise and remember material. Explore memory enhancement techniques such as Mind Tools.
    • Practise reading exam papers by rephrasing or rewriting difficult questions (e.g. putting numerical problems into words) and writing answers under timed, simulated exam conditions.
    • Leave spaces between paragraphs in essay questions so that structural cues (e.g. linking words or topic sentences) can be added later if necessary.
    • Follow up lost marks or lower-than-expected results with lecturers to improve your future performance.

  • Dealing with stress

    • Pace activities and expect some tasks to take longer.
    • Exercise regularly and practise relaxation techniques.
    • Cultivate friendships: join clubs, study groups and online discussion groups. Reduce non-essential activities and focus energies on study.
    • Consider part-time or distance education.

Information and resources

The University of Melbourne offers student support services as well as opportunities for extra-curricular and social activities. It is the student’s responsibility to make enquiries and follow up any issues.

  • Study adjustments

    You should initiate any enquiries about study adjustments with a Student Equity Adviser before the course begins. Possible adjustments include:

    • assignment extensions
    • provision of note-takers
    • assistance in the library
    • extended exam time, preferred seating, alternative venue
    • alternative formats and use of adaptive technology
    • alternative assessment arrangements.

  • Discussing your condition

    Some strategies can be implemented without discussing your condition. However, to provide ongoing support and specific study adjustments, the University needs relevant information regarding your requirements. You can contact a Student Equity Adviser to discuss appropriate adjustments while maintaining confidentiality.

  • Student rights

    Students with a disability have rights under the Disability Discrimination Act. If you feel your needs are not being met, you should discuss this with your lecturers or a Student Equity Adviser. If you are dissatisfied, complaints can be lodged through the University’s Complaints and Grievances procedure. If you are still dissatisfied, you can contact the Australian Human Rights Commission.

  • Resources

    Online resources are very useful and easy to access. Stop 1 and library staff can suggest and help source study-related information and references.You may also refer lecturers and tutors to a Student Equity Adviser for further information and advice.

    For a list of peak bodies and support groups, please visit preparing for study and community organisations.

Adapted from the original publication (the University of Melbourne and Australian Catholic University collaboration) funded by the Commonwealth Department of Education Employment Training and Youth Affairs under the Victorian Co-operative Projects for Higher Education Students with a Disability Committee, 1997. 
Written by Reem Al-Mahmoud, Patricia McLean, Elizabeth Powell, Janette Ryan. 
Revised version funded by the Australian Government Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations under the National Disability Coordination Officer Program, 2009.